An equity-led service prioritization would put the largest investments in these routes (image: KC Metro, click to enlarge)

Metro’s Service Guidelines, enacted in 2011 and updated in 2016, were intended to depoliticize the allocation of bus service, replacing Council and Executive micromanagement with a set of objective standards distributing Metro resources across the County against consistent metrics. Since last year, Metro and the County have been working on revisions to the guidelines that will increase the emphasis on social equity in those standards.

The proposed changes are complex, but the detail has not obscured from politicians how the revisions will advantage some areas over others, mostly shifting service in the general direction of South King County. While the expected revisions to the Guidelines raise target service levels nearly everywhere, that’s only meaningful with a less constrained budget. Absent more funding, changes in priorities are a nearly zero-sum game. There are substantive concerns about what is being traded off with the increased focus on equity.

How the current Service Guidelines work

Service is allocated according to a series of ‘priorities’. Crowding and reliability are priorities 1 and 2, respectively, and one sees typically minor adjustments to these priorities in every service change. Priority 3 increases service to meet target service levels, while Priority 4 increases service on the mostly highly productive routes, or reduces service where productivity is markedly poor.

The 2019 System Evaluation identified 35,000 hours of needed investments for crowding and reliability, and another 420,000 needed hours to meet target service levels (Priority 3). For context, Metro operated 4.2 million hours pre-COVID. Because the hours needed to meet target service levels are already so large, and projected to grow to 1.5 million hours with adoption of the new guidelines, Priority 3 targets have a large impact on where service is directed.

Emphasizing corridor productivity would direct more investments to dense Seattle neighborhoods (image: KC Metro, click to enlarge)

Mechanically, it works by scoring corridors on a 40-point scale to identify target service levels. Currently, 20 points are allocated for corridor productivity, with 10 each for geographic value and social equity indicators. There’s an additional layer of analysis for peak-hour service.

Let’s pause to define terms. Social equity, as currently implemented, ranks corridors by how boardings in the area compare against the systemwide average for boardings within census tracts with greater than average minority and low income populations. Geographic value identifies how well a corridor connects to activity centers, regional growth centers and manufacturing/industrial centers. Corridor productivity is a measure of the potential market for transit being served, with points for the number of jobs, households, students and park-and-rides adjacent to the corridor. This isn’t a measure of actual ridership because the goal is to understand underlying demand (A second step adjusts the output of the scores where existing ridership suggests more service).

Somewhat unintuitively, the investments are prioritized based on the scores for geographic value, productivity, and equity in that order. Geographic value is thus rather more important in the current process than a simple counting up of points might indicate.

What’s new?

Leading with Geographic Value yields a pattern of investments most similar to the current Guidelines (image: KC Metro, click to enlarge)

The proposals before the Council redefine each of the three key metrics of productivity, equity and geographic value. In particular, there is a more expansive definition of equity needs. The scoring of needs under each metric is also changed, although that turns out to be less important. Most contentiously, the County Council will need to decide which of the productivity, equity, and geographic value metrics to rank first, second, and third. Because the available budget is unlikely to stretch the estimated needs soon, the highest priority metric will draw much of the available resources.

The current guidelines’ equity scoring on minority ridership is replaced with a composite score including race, income, disability, foreign-born, and limited English speaker. The equity score will replace boardings with population, at some risk of directing service to areas with high equity scores, but lesser effectiveness at serving target populations.

The productivity score is adjusted to give added consideration to low and medium income job locations, aligning productivity metrics more closely to equity considerations.

There are also new target service levels for weekend service. The updated Metro Connects plan, itself reconfigured to reduce equity gaps, will be incorporated into the Service Guidelines Priority 3 methodology setting new minimum target service levels on those corridors.

Setting priorities

As the maps on this post make clear, the ordering of Priority 3 investments produce very different scenarios. (Each map shows the gap between current service and target service levels for a particular ordering).

The equity-first scenario addresses historical disparities in access, implementing Metro’s Mobility Framework and the recommendations of the Equity Cabinet. Investments prioritized in this scenario closely follow the ridership patterns seen since COVID-19 as the traditional commute has declined sharply.

The productivity-first scenario most closely follows existing demand and land use, and is should maximize ridership by making the greatest investments in the places with the greatest demand and most supportive development patterns. It generally is the most supportive of County climate goals by serving the greatest number of riders, although advocates for an equity-first approach point to localized climate impacts and air quality issues in South King County.

The geographic value-first scenario mostly closely maps to existing service, reflecting the high priority assigned to connecting centers in the current standards. It tends to map transit service to where cities are encouraging growth and more compact land use as represented by the regional centers framework and local activity centers.

Each scenario speaks to a rather different vision of Metro’s role with clear tradeoffs that can only be blunted by much higher funding levels so Metro can invest in routes further down the priority list. The expected 2024 ballot measure for countywide transit funding will be pitched as the solution to whatever needs the Council decides to rank lower in the service guidelines.

41 Replies to “Updating Metro’s service guidelines”

  1. Do you have any information about how they determined the “census blocks with the equity priority score”? I don’t know of any great maps for looking at wealth or income per census block. What I do know of is this map: https://onthemap.ces.census.gov/, which is a great resource for employment data. When I’ve selected the King County, and looked at the lowest income jobs, the highest concentrations occur within Seattle. There are other areas of higher concentration of poverty (Tukwila especially) but most are in Seattle.

    That probably isn’t the best measure. Household income is likely better. But either way, it is essential that we look at where the highest concentration of poverty exists. If you average the rich and the poor, you will ignore urban poverty. If you ignore density, you are far more likely to focus on rural areas.

    Before we get into whether to prioritize equity, we better make sure we are looking at data that reflects that. It sure doesn’t look that way to me.

  2. This is actually quite ingenious. King County will give one group of people A+ service. And they’ll give the other group of people D- service. Then, a few years from now, the county will say it’s wrong that some people are only getting D- service, but they will need a lot more money to improve it. It’s almost like a mechanic that sabotages a car so he can charge more. Brilliant.

    1. Are you sure it was your mechanic that left your oil-pan plug loose while you were messing around with your car, Sam, just to catch him in a litigation-gold mistake?

      And that “Get Maintenance Immediately!” signal on your dashboard. Was it you or him that went online and twitterized it into Trump-hating FAKE NEWS? But main thing:

      Was it your mechanic who ELECTED himself? If not, whoever committed that mistake needs to search their garage to trade old Schwinn training wheels for your car-keys. Probably got your pant-leg caught in the chain a lot too.

      Mark Dublin

    2. Sam might be right that this plan is about passing a county levy, but I think it is not a good plan.

      Residents in the south who will be getting increased transit service generally vote no on transit levies even if the levy funding will increase transit service in their area. What are the chances these same residents will vote yes on a county wide transit levy after they have obtained additional transit service, and the levy is to fund more transit service in northern areas?

      This plan would better suit a Seattle only transit levy because even though those in the north who have to pay more through the levy to restore their original service that was reallocated to the south might feel aggrieved, they vote yes on transit levies in high numbers. So they will likely vote yes again, especially if it benefits them.

      In reality I think a future levy has little to do with this new plan. This is good old grievance politics, and probably those advocating for more service for their “disadvantaged” communities believe like I do that not only will a country wide transit levy not pass in 2024, but the reduction in general fund subsidies for all transit due to lower tax revenue will mean transit service is going to become a neighborhood by neighborhood fight.

      1. Daniel, since the web-and-all have returned our species’ whole attention span to our chimp, baboon, and gibbon roots, yesterday’s fresh vegetables have a lot longer shelf-life than its grievances.

        Unless somebody keeps giving them plant-food and watering them, but that gets old too. It’s not a slur but a compliment when I postulate that your word-count against a transit feature that the world would call a gift could be termed somewhat professional.

        If so, your diligence deserves a raise. But please have some faith in our younger generation to harass themselves into something different of their choice. Because I certainly wouldn’t want any junior relatives of mine to tell me this:

        “Oh, Uncle Mark, that card-tap thing is just SOOOOOO KCM 2015! So here’s the link. Lake Washington’s got a whole ZOOM course in “TT”. Online Worldwide! Fares, homes, or holdings, Transactional Telepathy’s the way to go!

        Mark Dublin

      2. This plan would better suit a Seattle only transit levy because even though those in the north who have to pay more through the levy to restore their original service that was reallocated to the south might feel aggrieved, they vote yes on transit levies in high numbers. So they will likely vote yes again, especially if it benefits them.

        True, although if things get much worse, there will be moves towards greater independence for Seattle. I’m increasingly losing faith in the county, and their planning. It seems increasingly arbitrary. Cut service to Northgate right as they add a station, and put it into poorly performing buses, including express routes that operate only during rush hour. That is neither equitable nor effective (although maybe it serves the goal of the largely anti-urban PSRC).

        Why should Seattle — rich and poor — continue to be part of Metro funding, if it is mistreated in this way? Why not just go it alone? Seattle could fund its own transit service (instead of just adding extra funding to Metro). There would be coordination and negotiation with Metro (to keep routes like the E rolling). The buses wouldn’t be different colors (they would all run under the Metro flag, so to speak). But service levels (and capital spending improvements) would occur in Seattle, with the suburbs free to spend as they see fit (with no help from Seattle). At worse buses like the 5 and E would be less frequent (or Seattle pays more than its share) but the C, D, 1, 2, 3, 4, and a lot of other buses would be better.

        I’m not saying that is the ideal approach, but if Metro screws up (by screwing over Seattle) then don’t be surprised if there is a movement to do just that.

  3. Geographic value identifies how well a corridor connects to activity centers, regional growth centers and manufacturing/industrial centers. Corridor productivity is a measure of the potential market for transit being served, with points for the number of jobs, households, students and park-and-rides adjacent to the corridor. This isn’t a measure of actual ridership because the goal is to understand underlying demand

    (Emphasis mine). In theory, this is fine. It points out areas that are underserved — areas where they could add more bus service, and get a lot more riders.

    Unfortunately, the emphasis on regional growth centers and manufacturing/industrial centers is rather arbitrary. Why emphasize manufacturing/industrial centers? That seems rather outdated. Anyone who has been in a modern manufacturing plant knows that employees are highly efficient, and it is low density. You typically have a lot of space needed for the heavy equipment and trucks that are essential. There are exceptions, of course, but why focus on that one sector? Why not medical centers? Not only do medical centers have a higher density of employment, but they have lots of people going there all the time. I’m not saying any particular sector should be emphasized, but manufacturing/industrial doesn’t seem like anything special.

    Then you have regional growth centers, which are completely arbitrary. It has nothing to do with employment, number of trips taken there, or anything like that. They are simply chosen by the PSRC (https://www.psrc.org/sites/default/files/centers_small_0.pdf). Silverdale and Canyon Park are urban growth centers, but Ballard, Lake City and the C. D. are not. As to be expected, this results in a very strong emphasis on poorly performing regional transit. Routes to Algona and Woodinville rank higher than Rainier Valley or Greenwood.

    The “Geographic Value” measure is clearly flawed. The equity measure is likely flawed (ignoring the significant concentration of low income people who live in urban areas). The only measure that is the least bit sensible is the one that looks at productivity. Most of those routes exist already, and it is pretty easy to measure their success. The few that don’t can be built, and we see if they actually perform as well as expected (if not, then we should look to alter those measurements as well).

    It is quite possible that the county will alter bus service to serve arbitrary, ineffective measures, and the result will be lower ridership, and a transit network that gets worse.

    1. The PSRC defers to the counties to select regional growth centers. Lake City and Ballard-Interbay aren’t on it because they fail the county’s formula. The formula is based on the amount of zoned job capacity, and ignores housing. So Totem Lake and Issaquah and Federal Way tailor their districts to the minimum number of jobs required, and throw in some apartments so they don’t look like they’re stuck in the 1970s. In contrast, Lake City and Ballard-Fremont have a more even balance between jobs and housing.That’s good for walkabulity because it means more people can both live and work in the neighborhood theoretically, but it puts their job numbers below the minimum. So the county should either improve its formula or give Lake City and Ballard-Fremont an exception.

      This has already had negative impacts, becuse regional growth centers are must-serve for Link and Stride. This is why Lake City and Ballard got no consideration in ST2, and part of the justification for Federal Way and Issaquah Link.

      If Lake City were must-serve, then Lynnwood Link could have zigzaged to Lake City and back to Lynnwood. This was one of the alternatives in the alternatives analysis, a Lake City Way alignment. But because Lake City wasn’t in the criteria to serve, it didn’t get any weight, and the faster travel time to Lynnwood on I-5 prevailed.

      Another issue is zoning. ST’s ridership estimates can only consider approved or near-approval zoning. So even though Lake City or Aurora could have major upzones, they weren’t approved yet so they couldn’t be counted. Seattle should have done its HALA rezones (and more) ten years earlier at least, then they would have affected the ridership estimates for ST2 and 3.

  4. Massive mistakes this whole process is making? One, treating both equity and transit as abstractions. And two, we haven’t got the right people working on it.

    Mayor Durkan’s showing her own agreement by bowing out. Wish Carmen Best hadn’t, though she’s of an age where she can reconsider. But main thing. Am I right that Terry White now has the same job as Ron Tober did in ’83?

    If he’s even close, he’s our remedy’s perfect chairman. The Employee Advisory Committee on the Downtown Seattle Transit Project needs to come out of the storage rooms containing Tunnel signaling left thirty years unused.

    Rail and bus drivers. Supervisors, Mechanics. Customer Service men and women. Hazardous duty-detailed to ride runs, talk to passengers, and assemble a rundown out of passengers’ own mouths as to what they as men and women of all ages and backgrounds need from transit. To live their lives.

    And also detailed to meet at least once a week to present their findings, and work out what they cannot just propose but Do About It.

    And Agenda Item One? How to make the very distance between, say, Lake City and Tacoma become a widening of school choice and employment opportunity. Instead of a kindergarten fighting-pit of pernicious competition.

    What Link’s every foot of track and tunnel’s for: Job or school, for a Rainier Valley resident, Alderwood Park and Ride already IS a south-end destination. And Tacoma Dome, a north one. What’s already real in concrete and steel…..

    Let nobody’s statistics put asunder.

    Mark Dublin

  5. What is ignored with regards to equity is that it is also reflected in the productivity numbers. The 7, for example, is one of the most popular routes in our system. It has been for a very long time. While there is density there, it isn’t extraordinary. It looks lot like other routes, such as the 5. The difference between them is worth noting. Both are fairly fast, frequent and run through moderate density areas. The 7 outperforms the 5 quite a bit during rush hour. But the 7 does better than the 5 the table the rest of the day. This, despite the 5 having a high performing tail (at Shoreline College). This suggests that lots of people in Greenwood/Phinney Ridge commute (to downtown) but drive the rest of the day. In contrast, the folks in Rainier Valley ride the bus throughout the day. The end result is that the 7 outperforms the 5, even though the 5 likely drives by more people, and is especially fast.

    It is pretty easy to see how “equity” riders tip the scales. The 44 is notoriously slow, yet still performs very well. Given the fact that many students don’t own cars (and a lot of them have very little money) this could account for the good performance. Anyone who has ever rode the E knows that plenty of struggling people ride the bus.

    It is a mix, of course. There are bound to be riders of all types on a typical bus (which is a good thing). But if a bus route performs poorly, I doubt that it has a lot of low income riders (otherwise it wouldn’t). It may have a higher proportion of low income riders, but just not that many overall.

  6. I like how they put six figure Microsoft workers near the OTC in an equity gap. Foreign born doesn’t necessarily mean disadvantaged.

    1. There are a number of subsidized housing developments in the area that likely drive up the proportion of low-income households.

    2. You think everyone living there works at Microsoft? Even if they did, you think the cleaners, receptionists, and cafeteria staff are making six figures? Your troll game is weak.

      1. barman, my years in Ballard and my hours observing Oslo trams comfortably sharing waterfront trackway with bikes and baby-strollers, leave me with this caution for you.

        Norway often doesn’t say much, but based on its own past memories of consequences, ethnic slurs against its oldest and most stalwart folk are both noted and resented.

        The “Troll-kind” (rhymes with “skinned,” not “wined-and-dined”) face deadly dangers of their own. The highway department dissembles about this. But what’s often called a rock-fall is in fact the result of a perfectly peaceful troll, galumphing home along a ridge-line, counting its gold, and losing track of the time ’til sunrise.

        First Ray creates a gravity-propelled rock- feathered hat, pipe, lederhosen, and all. Bad enough that all these years, the one under the Fremont Bridge has had nothing to eat but a VW. I know somewhere there’s a minivan “going bad” in somebody’s freezer.

        Mark Dublin

      2. “rhymes with “skinned,” not “wined-and-dined”

        “galumphing home along a ridge-line, counting its gold, and losing track of the time ’til sunrise.”

        “First Ray creates a gravity-propelled rock- feathered hat, pipe, lederhosen, and all.”

        “I know somewhere there’s a minivan “going bad” in somebody’s freezer.”

        Excellent points, Mark.

  7. In comparing routes 5 and 7, the basic point of off-peak ridership by RossB is sound. Two others: one is headway; Route 7 runs every 10 minutes while Route 5 runs every 15 minutes; a second is Mt. Baker Link; it provides an opportunity for better transit mobility. In the mid 1990s, the three-lane profile of Phinney-Greenwood slowed Route 5 a bit.

  8. These metrics are far from an exact science. Kent is building two huge neighborhoods (West Meeker Street, and Veterans Drive) of “suburban clusters” providing hundreds of apartments, with probable high income and racial equity factors. The bus stops are sparse or lacking. They won’t show up in productivity measures but represent a huge gap despite denser populations than virtually all of north Seattle. The guidelines won’t serve them well unless you’ve got Metro execs and elected officials who travel in the area. On the other hand, if the county floods these two corridors with frequent buses, those might fail because residents must travel to work in so many diffuse destinations – that favor personal driving. Only way to find out is to provide the service.

      1. Mike Lindblom, it’s good to be able to talk to you this afternoon. I meant what I suggested this morning. Your personal and professional participation can be really valuable for the work ahead of us, as we create the transit system our region deserves. Including but not limited to Seattle. Your key word is “unless.”

        There’s a way to get execs and elected representatives (KCM, ST and all the rest) to not only travel but ride transit Their employers, meaning us, need to either make them do it or replace them. With their meetings which will also colloquially class as “rides”, scheduled and left open to the public.

        Check out the average Link car’s sound system. Pretty sure it’s got a “Whack!” for gavel-service. But any PA allegation that Angle Lake is north of Capitol Hill should put at least one “rep” on the bus to investigate. The ones with bars on the windows, not RapidRide.

        But more important, Mike, Bob Lane’s been gone five years. My employer and I owe him for the attention he gave our efforts and our service. Anything you need in return?

        Mark Dublin

    1. “despite denser populations than virtually all of north Seattle”

      I seriously doubt that. It is rare for suburban transit clusters to become high density, since they typically have lots of space for cars. It looks impressive, and is certainly more densely populated than it was before, but when all is said and done, it doesn’t have more people.

      Likewise in terms of low income residents. It is very common to assume that everyone who can’t afford to live in the city is moving to the suburbs. As others have noted, this ignores the low income residents in the city (https://pedestrianobservations.com/2020/12/07/what-suburban-poverty/). I’m not saying there aren’t poor people in the suburbs (especially Kent). I’m saying that it is quite likely that there are higher concentrations of poor people in Seattle.

      if the county floods these two corridors with frequent buses, those might fail because residents must travel to work in so many diffuse destinations – that favor personal driving. Only way to find out is to provide the service.

      Or you can compare the area to similar places across the country, as I would hope the planners would do. While such places are likely to have more riders than other suburban locations, it is highly likely they will have more riders — and more poor riders — than a similar amount of money spent in places like Lake City, White Center or Rainier Valley.

      1. I think Mike was saying the new development would likely be higher income, not lower. That makes sense as new development is usually higher rent.

      2. No, he meant lots of low income people. This is reasonable — these are apartments in Kent, not Queen Anne.

        Besides — look at his correction. He first wrote “with probable high income and racial equity factors”. Then went on to clarify that “high” means high # of people who aren’t wealthy. In other words, the apartments would probably have a high number of people who score well on income and racial equity measures (meaning a fair number of low income people of color).

        It is all quite reasonable, but my point is that this brief spurt of development isn’t enough to move the needle, given the underlying issues with trying to build a transit network. You would have to spend a fortune to give those residents the type of transit that allows them to “go anywhere”. The same amount of money spent in places like Rainier Valley, White Center and Lake City would go much further, and you would end up with a lot more low income riders benefiting.

    2. New apartments in Kent are going for about as much as new apartments in Seattle. They just have a bunch of parking included, slightly larger apartments, and more apartment community amenities. Here’s the leasing page for that Meeker St development: https://www.ethoskent.com/floor-plans/
      Studios start at $1495 and most are $1745.

      For comparison, here’s a new studio in Capitol Hill going for $1269, with 1 beds going for $1640-$2000.
      https://www.moderabroadway.com/seattle-seattle-wa-apartments/modera-broadway/conventional

      1. Very good point. This pretty much destroys Mike’s premise.

        Without further study, there is no reason to assume that someone in a Kent apartment has less money than someone in a Capitol Hill apartment.

        Furthermore, even if you have the same number of people, those in Kent are far more likely to own a car. It stands to reason that one of the reasons a low income person would move to Capitol Hill or Lake City is because the transit system is much better than that of Kent. In contrast, one of the big advantages to moving to Kent is that every apartment comes with a free parking space. If the goal is to improve the transit system for low income people who are dependent on transit, you are better off running the bus in urban areas with high concentrations of low income people.

      2. $1269 for a new studio in capitol hill is likely the rent for a subsidized/income restricted unit. (Though the website doesn’t specify.) The market rate for new-build studios there is more like $1600-1900 (plus negotiable concessions due to current market softness). For example here’s a studio unit in the same Modera building, similar square footage, for $1868. https://www.moderabroadway.com/seattle-seattle-wa-apartments/modera-broadway/floorplans/s01-997500/is-premium-view/1/tab/0/occupancy_type/conventional

  9. A main thrust of the effort is to show the need for new service subsidy and better service. Without new hours, priorities one and two use up all the new hours and it does not matter how priority three is calculated. A local option for Metro was in the legislative agenda for the county between 2009 and 2014, inclusive. In 2015, the legislative ask shifted to ST3 authorization, so county option was put off (though CT got one). That was a political choice. there may be discussion for a local option in 2024, the next presidential election. during the intervening legislative sessions, a question should be: what type of local option should be allowed? The service change process is political; it always has been. Political structure can bear on service design; see the three-county ST district or the difference in Metro before and after the merger into King County; after the merger, strong executives Locke and Sims asked for restructure (both also got new transit revenue). That is how public policy is made and public budgets formed. the SE Seattle restructure in fall 2016 was political and ran counter to the service guidelines. A major choice is how fast and completely to integrate with ST Sounder and Link. Caution implies more loss aversion. In SE Seattle, the cry was to save Route 42. All over the county, some folks will want to retain radial routes that connect them directly with downtown Seattle. If Link is frequent, the agencies ought to be able to educate riders and policymakers to integrate completely. So, a question raised today by RossB: should one-way peak-only routes oriented to First Hill or SLU be retained or should the hours be used on frequency and short waits?

    1. Metro should reconsider the First Hill/SLU expresses in light of the loss of the 41 and 61, a possible post-covid reduction in peak commuting, equity-deserving density in north Lake City, and the hope that a strong feeder grid will be better overall. It can always re-add an express later if necessary. If commuting ridership rebounds quickly and strongly, then there will also be more revenue available to deal with any overcrowding or excessively long commute times.

      1. I agree Mike, that is the sensible approach.

        While “priorities one and two use up all the new hours and it does not matter how priority three is calculated” is true for a general restructure, it isn’t clear how that applies to savings from a restructure. If service is moving based on “equity”, then it is essential that we get that assessment correct. I contend that it is quite possible that service will be moved away from Lake City, and towards buses that perform poorly on every metric. Not only will they pick up fewer riders per hour of service, but fewer low income riders as well.

        Complicating things is the fact that Seattle is paying for additional service. So now you have the real possibility that service will shift away from Seattle, as the county realizes that it can reach its equity goals by assuming Seattle will pay their own way. This means that Seattle could be left subsidizing suburban transit, with little evidence to show that it is actually benefiting those that need it.

  10. eddiew, having driven and enjoyed both the 5 and the 7, they’re identically important, each in the way it suits its routes the most. They both earn their keep, and they should always be considered colleagues, not competitors.

    But RossB, considering the length of time Lake City has been “there” makes solid service ‘way past “Non-Negotiable. That “Purple-Green” line, wire it from 130th Station to Mt. Baker Transit Center via Sand Point, Childrens’ Hospital, UW Stadium Station, 23rd Avenue and all.

    And for ten-minute headway maximum-straight to Northgate State, don’t even waste Word One but Just Plain Do It. If it’d make it any faster, or even maybe cleaner, wire that too. Quick-charged batteries, ok too.

    Like the 7 and the 5 have been doing forever, and the 41 and the tunnelized 550 did their whole lifetime, it’ll fast start Paying For Itself. As every neighborhood in a well-run city always does though usually stays closed-lipped about it.

    If Port of Seattle folded….I doubt Mercer Island would cheer the end of competition for its own ocean trade.

    Mark Dublin

    1. “If Port of Seattle folded….I doubt Mercer Island would cheer the end of competition for its own ocean trade.”

      Mercer Island makes enough with ‘No Wake’ fines

      1. Actually Mercer Island’s marine patrol is a multi-jurisdictional patrol. Several cities on Lake Washington contribute money towards the patrol rather than forming their own, or provide reciprocal services like Bellevue’s Fire Dept.

        So if you are cited for operating a boat while intoxicated, or not having a fire extinguisher or correct number of life preservers onboard, or don’t have a watcher or flag when towing someone, or don’t have running lights at night, or didn’t renew your vehicle tabs so transit can be subsidized, it isn’t just Mercer Island pulling you over, it is every city on the lake. They just want to make sure folks have fun boating, but no one gets killed or seriously injured.

      2. Well, former wife, myself, and family were approaching the east channel bridge in a 19ft bowrider, sign says:
        3mph/No Wake.
        Cruised as slow as we could even see the speedometer read. Wake was about the same as the boats approaching us from the other direction.

        Next thing – amplified voice “No Wake! No Wake!”
        Blue lights from a little cove under the bridge
        -Mercer Island Marine Patrol-

        Pulled us over like pirates ☠.
        Went through the whole Coast Guard checklist.
        Wife, being the consummate boater that she is, had everything in order.

        No fines from this gang, boys.

        Same frickin’ racket as Lake Forest Park, and Brier (for you northenders).

        Revenue Enhancement Patrol.

      3. Jim Cusick, because I instinctively respect democratically-installed authority, I wonder if the Wake-Alarm went off like this:

        Major increase in shoreline Mercer Island residents on the phone DEMANDING that THE LAW BE ENFORCED! East-Precinct stuff a little farther East.

        State Constitution should probably forbid funding Courts ‘n Cops with fines. Conflict of, shall we say INTEREST? Tell us, though, Jim. The “Cap’n” who challenged you still kept their HOOK in its scabbard, didn’t they?

        And pretty sure that nowadays, the Island’s average recreational drinking establishment staff does not greet customers with “Yo Ho Ho”, or serve rum by the Bottle. And in those ocean-sailing “Good Old Days” every espresso-drinking policeman “hailed” from either Vienna or Istanbul.

        But Daniel, dating back to a sweet romance during my younger days at the wheel of those buses, and my advisory time on what’s now just finally becoming East Link, I’ve long had a lot of fondness for your Island. Regionality always thought of you as someplace special.

        About those ferries, I’m deadly serious. The Island’s boat once topped the fleet. And not only is Roanoke Landing still a beautiful park, but I’m sure the lake is more than deep enough for jet-boats. Discussions do not have to be in courtrooms.

        Mark Dublin

  11. The geographic value prioritization would seem to give my own neighborhood (South Redmond/Northeast Bellevue) the best service, followed by the equity prioritization. But looking at the map, and what I know about who really rides the bus, the productivity prioritization looks obviously superior.

    Solving housing supply problems by running more buses to the outskirts of the metro area seems backwards to me. If poor people are living far away, where it’s cheaper, rather than closer in, where transit is actually practical, the problem is the location of the housing.

    “Hey, sorry you had to move to an apartment way out in Kent, because you couldn’t afford an apartment in Seattle. You understand, right? The last thing anyone needs is… tall buildings anywhere except Downtown Seattle. Here, instead we’ll give you some more bus service… that you probably won’t use, because by law every apartment in Kent has two parking spaces, and by law, every place you might conceivably go to in and around Kent will have more than enough free parking. The parking lots at either end of your trip will be so annoying to walk through, and the bus won’t really go where you need to anyway, because everything is so spread out that it will be geometrically impossible to provide service anywhere near as convenient as a cheap used car, that only the poorest will take the bus. By the way, almost everything you buy is just a little bit more expensive, to pay for this bus service that you won’t use. Equity!”

    1. That’s a good argument for why our transit taxing districts are smaller than our urban growth boundaries … but once we’ve established the taxing districts, shouldn’t we strive to provide good service across the district? Otherwise, shrink the district (like PT did) or overlay taxes where transit will be most successful (like Seattle).

      Once we have a good system for paid parking across (most) all P&R lots, there’s a good argument to reduce the service standards in hard-to-serve neighborhoods down to just lifeline & paratransit service, insofar as the taxing districts can be adjusted accordingly also. If I live in, say, the Renton highlands, rather than pay for a bus that’s not very useful, I’d rather just not pay for a bus but then the fraction of my neighbors that do ride the bus can pay $100 (or whatever) to park where a bus does run.

      But right now, are there any cities in King County that are agitating for less transit service?

      1. The problem I see is that these boundaries are to some extent arbitrary. If we look at Metro (a county-level agency) and its service area (which spans some but not all of the county), and allow for taxes to be adjusted accordingly, why not do the same at the city level? Then Laurelhurst, which gets essentially no service, can also pull out of the service area, and Laurelhurst residents would have to pay a higher fee because they get a different ORCA than someone with an address in the city boundary.

        If this is not allowed, then that is unfortunately going to be used as an argument for allowing the rich neighborhoods to secede, and/or incorporate separately, a la Medina, Clyde Hill, etc. – the usual beating horses here and many other places.

        I am not personally (emotionally, let’s say) advocating for either of these options, but I am struggling to find good arguments to make something like the exclusion areas work and not see a lot of people argue these sorts of ideas somewhat convincingly with enough of the electorate to start to get traction, and that is a little scary. So I am looking for counter-arguments :)

        Thanks in advance.

      2. Boundaries certainly are arbitrary (The Urbanist had a whole article on this), but we can still do our best to right-size them. There should be a way to ensure taxing districts are continuous to avoid strangeness like excluding Laurelhurst.

        And it’s not just adjusting the transit to match the land-use, but also adjusting the land-use to match the transit. It needs to all get wrapped up in a cohesive planning process.

        Regionally, I think we do this well, regularly iterating between PSRC & Sound Transit planning processes. PSRC identifies growth centers as nodes of activity, and has mechanisms to both support growth with carrots & sticks. Sound Transit seeks to provide HCT to growth centers. Obviously, this process is messy, evidenced by the many many many criticisms on this blog, but I think we land in a good spot and plans continue to evolve with the region.

        So the county needs to do the same. Aside from the growth centers, where else are we going to grow? What will that growth look like? And how can we support that growth with good transit. If the county is going to build a suburban RapdRide line, but there is no mechanism to:
        1. Fund good pedestrian access, like sideways & street crossings
        2. Prioritize ROW use, like queue jumps, BAT lanes, no street parking during rush hour, etc.
        3. Support good TOD. Do we have the right zoning & other regulations? Do we have the right fee structure? etc.
        Then the route will not be successful.

        The solution isn’t to use the state to concentrate decision making powers into one entity (a city, a county, whatever) to force everything into alignment. The solution is to do the hard work of democracy. Build coalitions across political entities. Build consensus on the best policy outcomes.

        I have been listening to a lot of Strong Towns podcasts this week, so I might be drinking the kool aid, but when you get down to the neighborhood level, progress needs to be built at the neighborhood level. The county can only do so much. If a city evolves itself to support better transit – denser living, priced parking, safe pedestrian infrastructure, thoughtful ROW use – I have faith that good transit service will follow (economic crises aside). There’s a virtuous cycle (which can run in both directions), so focus on what you can control.

      3. PSRC identifies growth centers as nodes of activity, and has mechanisms to both support growth with carrots & sticks.

        Except that they fail miserably when it comes to that. This ends up hurting urban areas, especially Seattle. Look at the map, and it seems quite reasonable — but only within that region. U-District, Uptown, South Lake Union, Downtown and First Hill are four of the biggest centers in Seattle. If you look within various regions, it also looks reasonable. All of the various city centers are represented (Kent, Auburn, SeaTac, etc.).

        Except that they aren’t. Downtown Kirkland isn’t there, but Totem Lake is. Likewise, there is no Ballard “center” in Seattle, despite the high number of jobs and other attractions there. Eastgate has plenty of office buildings and a large university, yet it isn’t included, while Issaquah (let alone places like Canyon Park) are “centers”.

        But the biggest problem is scale. Northgate is at the same level as downtown Seattle. For that matter, so is Redmond, Overlake and Bremerton.

        There is also a weird obsession with manufacturing.

        It is quite a bit like these equity goals. They are worthy, but you need data to support them. If you arbitrarily run buses to the south end based on a bad metric, you are bound to screw up. Likewise, if you run buses to arbitrarily designated “centers”, then you are bound to screw up as well.

        when you get down to the neighborhood level, progress needs to be built at the neighborhood level. The county can only do so much.

        I agree, and when you look at what happened over the years, it is clear that the PSRC ideas are largely irrelevant. Ballard grew much faster than most of those “centers” on the map.

        If a city evolves itself to support better transit – denser living, priced parking, safe pedestrian infrastructure, thoughtful ROW use – I have faith that good transit service will follow (economic crises aside).

        Unless, of course, they follow some other arbitrary metric, which is the focus of this post. If we lead with productivity, then eventually those areas that have grown become a lot more productive. Then they get extra service, and you get that productive cycle you mentioned. If you look at our network, it isn’t like we are ignoring those arbitrarily designed centers, or that our system doesn’t go into low income suburban areas. It is just that those areas don’t carry a lot of riders (yet) per hour of service. If that changes — if those buses eventually carry a lot more riders — then increasing frequency is a good idea.

  12. Good thing about buses, however sized and powered, is their flexibility. Case-by-case, instead of arguing by category, we can establish policy with tests using actual buses. Whatever works, do it. What doesn’t, just do something else.

    But the idea that competition’s set-in-stone, just plain wrong. As was the case with The Confederate States of America, likely negative outcome was the reason the Slavers and ‘Secesh” never did a vote. Reason Spokane doesn’t secede is the same as why Seattle would object:

    Both places are richer for their partnership with each other. Bellevue- Mercer Island-Rainier Valley-Northgate-Everett, same, same, same. Ballard’s definitely internalized its modernizing history. In Hamlet’s uncle’s time, England still wore a sword-stripe made-in-Denmark. And Norway’s former king’s been long a Nazi birthday-hero.

    But now? Three peaceful, intellectual little socialisms, with Copenhagen having visa-free access across a monumental highway-train bridge. With the lands that formerly trembled at its word. Look up “cicatrice”.

    So what a Columbia City Route 7 rider earns, a Northgate-Lake City employer can surely pay. Everett too. And works both directions. At least if allowed and also encouraged.

    Mark Dublin

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